Trending Topics

A 13-step plan for speeding up the police recruitment process

Today’s candidate pool wants immediate gratification. The idea of applying for a job that may take up to 12 months or longer to secure is unfathomable


AP Photo/John Minchillo

This article originally appeared in the August 2022 Police1 Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, see 13-step recruitment plan; How to prevent a ‘great resignation’ and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

Several variables are driving the current police recruitment crisis. Some of the issues, such as the economy and media criticism of the police, are beyond our control. Still, there are strategies police leaders can implement to increase the number of candidates applying to join departments.

Dedicate resources and develop a recruitment & retention plan

Regardless of the size of the department, agency leaders must devise a strategic plan that addresses short- and long-term police staffing needs. The plan should assess budgetary requirements for recruitment, as well as assess appropriate numbers to adequately staff the agency. The plan should predict attrition based on situational awareness of contemporary issues, and not just rely on historical data trends.

The recruiting manager should have dedicated personnel chosen as the best representatives of the department. Recruiters should be trained to be mentors and able to answer any possible question from candidates. Recruiters should be proactive and personable to engage and encourage candidates. Agencies should analyze their regions to determine the best methods to seek candidates, such as via social media or print media, and the best locations such as local colleges and universities, as well as locations unique to the area (churches, beaches, gyms, road rallies, street fairs, sporting events, community gatherings, military discharge facilities, etc.).

Speed up the recruitment process

Today’s candidate pool wants immediate gratification. The idea of applying for a job that may take up to 12 months or longer to secure is unfathomable for many. The antiquated system of having applicants fill out applications and then follow a testing period for written tests, oral boards, physical agility and medical screening, drug testing, backgrounds, polygraph and psychological testing, is unappealing to today’s candidates.

Technology can shorten the police recruit application process. The testing segments mentioned above can be standardized and processed concurrently rather than consecutively. Platforms like can bring recruiters and candidates together via remote forums that would allow national rather than regional or local recruiting efforts.

Some agencies already speed up the process of candidate eligibility by asking for the candidate’s driver’s license, a hair sample for drug analysis and a brief background biography. Medical waivers to review pre-existing medical conditions may be obtained at this point as well.

Regarding background investigations, software-centric systems from companies such as Guardian Alliance Technologies and Miller Mendel can speed up the process significantly. The idea of having a cadre of file-carrying background investigators doing leg work and waiting for background packets to be returned via snail mail should be a thing of the past.

National testing process and database

As we await the release of President Biden’s $13 billion law enforcement recruiting plan, we can only hope that the plan includes funding for innovation in recruitment. Some of the ideas that could reduce the time delays and backlogs include:

  1. Implementation of a Law Enforcement National Candidate Database containing candidate profiles (age, gender, regional preferences, etc.) accessible to any agency.
  2. Development of national virtual forums for candidates to learn about agencies, testing requirements and expectations associated with the recruitment process.
  3. Creation of a national cost-free application process using a standard Pellet-B test for example.
  4. Partnerships with private sector screening centers to pre-screen applicants.
  5. Cost-free, pre-testing facilities for written, oral and physical agility tests.
  6. Monthly testing to gather baseline levels of aptitude to allow applicants to improve scores.
  7. Physical testing at police academies, public or private athletic gyms, or dedicated state testing sites.
  8. Conducting other tests concurrently upon successful completion of written tests.
  9. Use of software-based background screening.
  10. Expedited tests using any of the accepted truth-telling practices available such as a polygraph, Computer Voice Stress Analyzer, EyeDetect by Converus, or other devices.
  11. Conditional hiring budgets enable offers to be made within 30 days of the written test while other background tests proceed. Candidates would be required to sign injury waivers understanding that failure to pass the background check would result in their release.
  12. Once in the academy, additional funding should be allocated for remedial training, mentoring and retention plans for struggling recruits.
  13. Retention plans should include alternative functions within a department to employ non-graduates of the academy to other positions within the agency (non-sworn positions in administration, security, police-service aids, traffic, community relations, etc.) rather than complete dismissal. This would be an incentive for those resistant to applying to a law enforcement agency at risk of losing their current employment.

Efforts must be made to address the police recruiting crisis as a national issue, not as a local or even regional one. These 13 strategies are a step in that direction.

Next steps: Read national reports

In 2019, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) released “The Workforce Crisis, and What Police Agencies are Doing About It,” which was followed that same year by an IACP report titled “A Crisis for Law Enforcement.”

Both reports describe similar challenges regarding evolving changes in law enforcement duties around responding to mental health crises, homelessness and collateral social issues such as drug overdoses. The reports also detail issues with decades-old policies and procedures around recruiting and testing.

While neither report offers concrete solutions, police executives can use the documents as a starting point to develop strategies specific to their agency’s needs.

NEXT: Recruitment best practices from the largest state police agency in America

James Dudley is a 32-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department where he retired as deputy chief of the Patrol Bureau. He has served as the DC of Special Operations and Liaison to the Department of Emergency Management where he served as Event and Incident Commander for a variety of incidents, operations and emergencies. He has a Master’s degree in Criminology and Social Ecology from the University of California at Irvine. He is currently a member of the Criminal Justice faculty at San Francisco State University, consults on organizational assessments for LE agencies and hosts the Policing Matters podcast for Police1.